How to Make a Tree Swing That Will Last a Lifetime

Build a sturdy, old-fashioned wood-seat tree swing with these instructions and diagrams.

| August/September 1992

My childhood was graced with an older generation that knew how a kids' swing ought to be built. No flimsy metal frame sets with cramped plastic seats hung on thin, palm-cutting clothesline. No thigh-squeezing rubber slings on finger-pinching chain either. Instead, there were stout wood seats that little knees could lock on to, and boat-mooring line, suspended from sturdy tree branches, and that was fat enough to give a firm grasp. At the old family homestead, a swing at the river bank was fastened so high that the rope disappeared forever into the canopy of a huge black oak. Pumping hard, we could swing 15 feet above the water…let go and fly almost to midstream…and land in a cannonball worthy of the name.

I've built old-style swings on my own country places for over 20 years now. I can tell you that an awful lot of children (and adults) have shared the joy of swinging and creating a nice breeze during those sticky summer days. There's a real pride in knowing I helped to put those smiles there—a pride everyone should know. So I've decided to teach all of you how to make a tree swing that your children and grandchildren will remember you by.

The first step in how to make a tree swing is gathering the right materials. You'll need a hand saw or electric Skilsaw (try square or other right angle), wood rasp, sandpaper, screwdriver (an electric power driver is best), a drill with 1/8" and 3/8" wood-bits, lumber, rope, fasteners, fittings (as specified), plus a can of wood preservative and a brush. However, you'll need no great carpentry expertise, and I'll demonstrate some marlinspike seamanship so that you can fasten the rope securely.

First, there's the matter of picking the right tree. You should look for one that is in open ground, and that has a thick, live-wood limb which is growing parallel to (and not inaccessibly high off) the ground. A limb much less than ten inches in diameter will bounce, reducing the young swinger's stability. A solution might be to attach the swing close to the trunk, but too close and the swing will carom off it. Deadwood branches will break, and limbs that angle upwards will skew the arc of the swing.

The higher the limb, the longer the swing's pendulum motion and the higher it can go before gravity overpowers momentum. Playground swings are six to ten feet high, and a grade-schooler can get five to six feet above the pavement. Your yard will provide a softer landing for any slip, and your swing's ropes can be attached fifteen feet off the ground to give a good but not too-high ride. For a real cloud-duster, you can send a good tree climber up to fasten your ropes to a limb 25 feet or more high. Make a point of supervising those children under 12 years of age. Measure or estimate the height of the limb off of the ground. Then go to a quality lumber yard and a good hardware store and purchase the following weather-resistant materials:

Wood: Measure six feet of nominal 4/5" thick, 6' wide (actual measure: 1 1/16" thick and 5 1/2" wide) #2-grade Eastern white, Western red cedar, or California redwood decking, preferably with "eased" or rounded edges. If these naturally rot-resistant, non-splintering woods are not available, buy white oak or another hardwood if you can. Common two-inch-thick construction softwood lumber is okay. It's thick and splintery but definitely better than thin, easy-splitting, 1" pine shelving. Don't think of using deck boards of that colored, pressure-treated wood—you don't want a splinter containing arsenic or copper preservative in your child's tender bottom.

9/10/2017 5:32:51 PM

polyrope breaks and splinters and the tiny pieces of plastic rope pieces fester in the skin you can hardly get them out! and twine will break without notice after a few yrs. we have replaced our ropes several times i find parachute rope to be the best it doesn't splinter with age and lasts the longest.

9/8/2017 9:03:32 PM

Hi, so nice to see that other people are experiencing the same issues I am. Sorry to hear, but , still somewhat comforting to know I am not alone. My girlfriend who just returned from Italy said all the same things, and since I also have gluten and lactose problems, as she does, I am hoping to find some answers here. What are they, the (U.S.) doing to our food!!!!????

2/23/2016 5:37:44 PM

Great information about installing a safe tree swing! Nothing says classic timeless fun like a swing hung from a high tree branch in the backyard! Whether you want to watch nature around you or blast your tree swing to the moon and back, it's good wholesome fun for kids of any age. Check out the children’s book High in the Sky by Kathleen Gauer to see what fun activities can be done while swinging. A great way to burn off energy and build some good family fun time!

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